Saturday, April 13, 2024

Local K-9 Honored at US Capitol for School Protection Efforts

Cody with her Congressional Distinguished Service Medal. (James Overton)

YORKTOWN — K-9 Cody is a local celebrity to many in the Hampton Roads area after the 13-year-old German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix was recently honored at the U.S. Capitol for her extensive work protecting the country, both at home and abroad.

James Overton, Cody’s handler, has been a part of Cody’s life since she was 5 years old. Before working with Overton, Cody was stationed in Baghdad and worked to protect the U.S. Embassy in Iraq for two years as an explosive detection dog.

After connecting a friend with the head of security at Busch Gardens, Overton was offered the chance to be Cody’s handler.

“I didn’t know anything about K-9, other than how to hold a leash,” Overton said. “He asked me to come out to his facility in Minnesota to train and get certified. I’d always wanted to do K-9 when I was in the military and I never really had a chance so I took it. His dog that he gave me was Cody and we’ve been together ever since.”

Overton and Cody’s first job was at Busch Gardens. While she was primarily a bomb-sniffing dog, Cody also helped kids and adults overcome their dog fears.

Cody protecting Busch Gardens. (James Overton)

“There was an incident in the park where a little girl got bit by a dog for no reason. The head of security called me over and they wanted me to come up to the little girl so she wouldn’t be scared. As soon as Cody saw her, she went up to her and licked her hand and immediately laid down and rolled over on her back. It helped calm her down and put her at ease,” Overton remembered.

Cody’s work has taken her all over the globe. She’s worked at the NBA All-Star Game, NFL games, Mall of America and even a Taylor Swift concert. For Overton, it’s Cody’s work within the Hampton and Newport News schools that he’s most inspired by.

“I’ve done NFL games and I’ve done a Taylor Swift concert and that’s all crazy and it sounds really super cool, but to me, the biggest impact that I think Cody and I have had is within the schools,” Overton said.

Cody and Overton have been working within the school districts to find firearms and drugs. While working at the Hampton schools, there have been no firearms incidents since Overton and Cody began their contract. While they have only been in Newport News for a few months, there have also been no firearms incidents there either.

It was that effort that put her on the radar of the Animals in War and Peace organization.

At the Animals in War and Peace ceremony on March 6, Cody was honored with a Congressional Distinguished Service Medal at the U.S. Capitol. The honor was something that Overton didn’t even know she was up for.

Cody and Jason protected the NBA All-Star Game. (Jason Overton)

“The folks at Animals in War and Peace had asked me to submit Cody’s bio, which I figured they wanted to just add it to the program. They had actually sent Cody’s bio in to their board of directors and they decided to give Cody a medal,” Overton said.

The medal however is not Cody’s first honor. In 2020, Cody was named the American Humane Hero Law Enforcement Dog of the Year. Overton and Cody were flown to Florida and walked the red carpet and even appeared on the Hallmark Channel broadcast.

At 13, Cody (and Overton) have no plans to slow down. While Cody is partially retired, she has joined the ranks of the celebrity K-9 team.

“She still goes everywhere with me. I have another K-9 partner so that when Cody gets tired, I can let her go up and rest. That said, she loves what she does. She lives for working and I don’t want to take that away from her. She’s not your typical K-9,” Overton says.

Cody protecting Jamestown Settlement. (James Overton)

Overton remembered that when he first got Cody, he had to do almost no training.

“She came trained already and she’s just one of those dogs that knows her job so well and she’s so good at it. It makes my job — I always refer to us as the dumb end of the leash — she makes my job so so easy,” Overton says.

While she looks identical to a police dog, Overton says that she is very much the opposite when it comes to her personality.

“She’s so friendly and social. People can approach her. We refer to them as single-purpose dogs as they are not trained to apprehend or bite, but she looks just like those other types of dogs. Her demeanor is so great. She’s just been the perfect fit in the schools and we’ve used Cody as an example for other handlers training their dogs to emulate and follow after,” Overton said.

The pair are ambassadors for American Humane, where they frequently travel to educate law enforcement handlers, and speak on the topics of K-9 advocacy and veteran advocacy.

“I always wanted to be a part of something bigger and to earn that sense of accomplishment. Being a part of something like this with Cody gave me that newfound sense of purpose in life,” Overton said.

K-9 Cody has her own Facebook page where Overton regularly posts photos and videos of what they are up to. Click here to follow them.

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